Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

European Explorer

As I’m writing this, I am sat at the Marseille-Provence airport for my second flight of this 3 week European adventure waiting for our boarding call (we were supposed to board like 2 minutes ago and don’t even have a plane yet so we’ll see how this goes). We had a very brief stay in Marseille, and it wasn’t all sun and sea, but it was still a lovely start to a crazy few weeks.

Our trip started off with a lot of exhaustion. We spent all of the day before exploring London like tourists with a bunch of my friends from home, which was a really really nice way to sort of dull the pain of missing home. I’ve known them for so long it was amazing to just get right back into old habits in one of the most amazing cities in the world. Despite being very touristy in the morning, we ended up spending over 2 hours playing around in a park we just happened to stumble across somewhere in Shoreditch. London has so many hidden treasures you can randomly find if you just decide to let the city do the exploring. After an awesome day, we went home to finish last minute packing and get our lives together for 3 weeks in Europe. Having to catch a bus at 3:45 am on the day of daylight savings didn’t really leave time to even try to get some sleep, so we just didn’t even bother. This meant a lot of Mountain Dew. Our trip to Marseille involved a London Night Bus to Baker Street (not a very fun experience riding the bus with all of the drunk people going home Saturday night), an easyBus to Stansted (which showed up late), a flight to Marseille (pretty uneventful aside from the medical emergency of another passenger at the gate), a bus from the airport to the train station in Marseille (first encounter with the language barrier- but we managed), the Metro to Vieux Port (basically the tube but in France), and then a walk to our room. 5 different forms of transportation and we’re only on the first leg of the trip, but I’m very proud of us for successfully making it through all of them.

The biggest difficulty we had was trying to do all of this without any help from the Internet as we don’t have cell service anywhere outside the UK, which will probably be the most challenging part of the whole trip. I’m having separation anxiety from the Internet, but I’m in France so I’ll survive. Other than that the only other real struggle is the language barrier, which really took me by surprise because I’ve never really had to deal with it before. I don’t think I ever really thought about it in preparation for the trip because when we got here, I had to stop and think before I talked to the money conversion attendant and I had forgotten how to even say thank you in French. I was definitely the American tourist that answered the ‘bonjours’ with ‘hellos’ because it just never occurred to me to say anything else. Considering I only know minor French and struggled to communicate, I have no idea what’s going to happen when we get to countries with languages I haven’t even seen before. It’ll definitely be a new cultural experience and I’m excited, but being in a completely foreign country with an entirely new language can be very overwhelming and isolating.

Anyway! On to vacation. Marseille is in the Provence region of France and is the second biggest city after Paris and is actually located quite close to Barcelona, which I found very exciting. The place we stayed at was a 10 minute walk from the old port and was essentially right in the middle of all of the action, which was awesome. Despite wanting to jump into the bed as soon as we checked in, we pushed forward and went to go grab something to eat. There were a ton of food options all around, but we were pretty much dead set on enjoying a French crepe as our first meal, so we headed to a creperie we had seen on our walk to the room. It was in this awesome square with a ton of outdoor seating (it was absolutely gorgeous out, there was even sun! I had forgotten what that looks like after so long in rainy Cardiff!) which would have been lovely, but we opted for indoor seating anyway. The creperie was adorable and had a full list of sweet and savory crepes (with English translations thank goodness) and after much debating, I decided to try my first ever savory crepe. It was chicken and ratatouille flavored because why not just go as French as possible. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the eggplant (or ‘aubergine’ as they say in the UK) in it but I really didn’t mind, the chicken was delicious and the whole thing was wonderful.

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After dinner we spent the afternoon exploring the city and trying to take in everything it had to offer. Marseille really is a beautiful place. All of the buildings are fun colors and it’s busy, but not so busy that it feels overwhelmingly touristy. Right in the city centre is Vieux Port (‘old port’) which is fully of sail boats and waves looking out over the sea, and it’s basically the main centre for the city. We walked up and down the streets, in and out of shops, and tried to figure out what all of the interestingly shaped buildings were. The architecture is incredibly unique and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, in both the new and old buildings. There are some really cool cathedrals and forts from hundreds of years ago, but also a really cool modern museum with the craziest textured exterior I have ever seen. Due to our limited time in the city, we didn’t really get the chance to go into any of them, but I imagine they are very cool.

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The old architecture.
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And the new.

Our exploration ultimately led us to the sea, where any good exploration should lead. The ocean is magnificent, the ocean breeze (or gale force wind as I would call it) however, was not so magnificent. It was a battle to hold myself still enough to even take a picture, but the sea spray and the view was definitely worth it. A little outside of Marseille there are numerous islands and a national park region called ‘The Calenques’ (which we didn’t get a chance to see, but I will someday) so the views off the coast are amazing. One of the islands even looked like it had a castle on it, which is basically the dream location for a castle.

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Initially our plan was to check out the view on this side of the port and then head over to the other side to find a spot to watch the sunset, but by the time we finished on the first side, we were so exhausted from being awake for 36 hours and so sore from walking over 20 miles that we decided to call it a day and spend the rest of the night relaxing in our room and falling asleep. Vacation is part new experiences and part relaxation so we were just capitalizing on the relaxation part, and our room had wifi to catch up with the world outside of Marseille.

While I had a wonderful night sleep (a much needed 12 hours), I wish I could say I woke up feeling chipper and ready for a new day in France, but that was not the case. I woke up hungry and thirsty so I grabbed a glass of water and a granola bar before laying back in bed. About an hour later I was shaky and did not feel good at all. I spent the rest of the morning battling an upset stomach and just general sickness. I don’t think it was food poisoning because I really didn’t feel that sick, it was more or less being generally uncomfortable and not being able to keep food down, so I think it might have been my body not digging the water from the kitchen sink. I spent the morning drinking (bottled) water and some bread and crackers before taking a nap. I missed out on our trek to the Notre Dame de la Gard at the top of the city, but Shelbie took enough pictures to make me feel like I was there with her. Luckily, at about 5 I had managed to eat some baguette (yeahhh France) and decided I had the energy to do some exploring. We stopped at the grocery store for some snacks and headed off to explore the other side of the port.

I think this side may have had better views than the other. It was a more uninterrupted view of the sea and all I wanted to do was jump in and enjoy the ocean, unfortunately the beach was closed so we couldn’t, but it was still cool to see, and as I’ve previously mentioned, I have a very strong dislike of sand so I wasn’t too upset. At the edge of the coast towards the upper half of this side there is a massive archway dedicated to the soldiers who fought for France in various battles and it’s an incredible sight. It looks out over the islands and it’s a pretty amazing thing to take in.

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Our venture continued along the streets until we found a gated entrance, to what we had no idea but we went in anyway. Inside we found a beautiful palace at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean. I have absolutely no idea who or what the palace is for as the plaque was all in French, but whatever or whoever it is must be important because it is gorgeous. There were people laying on the lawn and dogs running in between the massive sculptures out front. It was a sight to see. Based on our time in Marseille, I noticed that the French really like to find anywhere possible to just sit down and relax, whether that be in a nook on a massive brick wall, on the edge of a dock, or on a massive bench overlooking the ocean, and just sit there for hours, with a baguette of course. We decided to take a note from the French and sit in front of the palace for a while, eventually long enough to watch the sun set over the sea, which is always amazing. I can’t do that at home so I’m trying to take advantage of every chance I can to do it here.

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And as the sun set over the ocean, our time ran out in France. That night we packed up our duffel bags and got ready to head off on our next journey. Our morning involved a French patisserie, the metro, a bus, and a plane, all easily doable as we did the same route when we arrived. We were off to the airport to catch our flight to Rome, one of the most amazing and historic cities in the world, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

France was wonderful; a beautiful and warm start to this Easter break marathon. It wasn’t perfect and I missed some valued exploration time, but I’ll be back to France in 2 weeks for more pastries and baguettes, but until then I have four other countries to visit. It’s going to be an absolutely insane few weeks but I cannot wait to see what we get up to.

Side note: hopefully all the right pictures are in there, this light packing adventure has left me to blog without a laptop and with spotty Internet it’s hard to tell what really got uploaded and I’m not sure how to make my thumbnails work but I’ll try to find a way to fix it eventually.

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